LSU baseball Q&A: Offense a pleasant surprise, Paul Mainieri’s best pitchers, and more _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --LSU's Kramer Robertson (3) hits his first home run of the season in the sixth inning of LSU's 11-8 win over Miss st. Sunday in Alex Box Stadium. Robertson's solo shot put LSU up 11-5.

The Twitter mailbag will run every Tuesday morning during baseball season, but questions are welcomed throughout the week @Chandler_Rome. Follow along for analysis and coverage throughout the season and, if you feel so inclined, ask away.

LSU replaced eight of nine starters in its batting order and is the SEC’s fourth-highest hitting team at .303. That is, without question, the biggest surprise of the season. Even early on when clutch hitting eluded it, LSU’s offense showed signs of success. At Texas A&M, where the Tigers had baserunners in 23 of 27 innings and had 51 at-bats with runners on base, it was undone by a lack of situational hitting — something that’s now become routine for this suddenly potent offense.

LSU's potent offense has been a surprise this season.

Led by Kramer Robertson in conference play, LSU’s potent offense has been a surprise this season.

Paul Mainieri’s juggled the lineup and dealt with some injuries, but still the offense hums, with wins against Golden Spikes Award candidates Tanner Houck (Missouri) and Kyle Wright (Vanderbilt). Another win against ace Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt) and a 12-hit performance against Dakota Hudson (Mississippi State) shows that prestige and velocity don’t deter this lineup, which is still sorting itself out in the middle, but continuing to produce at an eye-opening rate.

The leaders are new faces, too. Freshman Antoine Duplantis is the team’s leading hitter. Kramer Robertson, a junior who had yet to put his entire game together at LSU, is the team’s leading hitter in SEC play. Greg Deichmann and Jordan Romero, both of whom had zero Division I hits entering the season, are tied for the team lead with six home runs.

I’ll actually have a more detailed story on this Wednesday leading into the Ole Miss series, but I’ll give a snippet here to answer. Romero caught both Saturday and Sunday against Mississippi State. Paul Mainieri was asked about it after the series finale on Sunday but remained a bit non-committal about proclaiming an everyday starter.

“(Romero’s) catching has improved greatly,” Mainieri said. “He’s played these last couple games and I think he’s made a difference. I think he helped (Alex) Lange pitch great (Saturday) night, quite frankly.”

By the written letter, RPI isn’t the sole factor, but it sure does play a big part in the considerations. Remember, RPI takes into account strength of schedule (both in conference and non-conference), road/home wins and wins against other top-tier teams — all of which are combined to determine which eight teams will be national seeds.

LSU is No. 14 in both‘s RPI rankings and the official NCAA rankings — the fifth-highest among Southeastern Conference teams. With the SEC’s parity and a lack of other standout teams around the country, buzz has begun to circulate that the SEC could have as many as six host sites when the tournament begins. The conference has produced two national seeds and four host sites in each of the last three seasons.

Paul Mainieri said it best — Valek was pitching “like he can” Sunday, but Mississippi State saw him well. We’ve detailed Valek’s repertoire numerous times and, along with that, said he’s bound to give up hits. Sunday forced Mainieri to act quicker than normal.

“I hated to have such a quick hook on him because he’s pitched so well all year, and he wasn’t pitching poorly,” Mainieri said. “But I just felt that I couldn’t let us get into too big a hole after having lost the first two games kind of in heartbreaking fashion. I just felt Russell Reynolds had a little bit better stuff to let him pitch out of a jam.”

John Valek threw five shutout innings in LSU's 15-1 win in game one.

John Valek’s rocky start wasn’t an indication that he’ll leave the rotation

Many of the six hits Valek surrendered were hard-hit balls and it quickly became evident Mississippi State was squaring him up. Moreover, Mainieri had a very rested bullpen after Alex Lange’s complete game on Saturday and trusted Reynolds to take him into the later innings while the offense got on track.

Valek will start the series finale on Saturday against Ole Miss, so no, his job is not in jeopardy. His style of pitching sometimes results in games like Sunday, especially in the SEC.

This is a very good question, Bill. It prompted some research, which uncovered an interesting statistic. LSU’s three everyday outfielders — Beau Jordan, Jake Fraley and Antoine Duplantis — have a combined seven assists this season. Two of those came in LSU’s season-opening win against Cincinnati.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis and his fellow outfielders will have opportunities for assists and outs on the basepaths.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK — LSU right fielder Antoine Duplantis has four of LSU’s seven outfield assists.

That’s a low number through 40 games and it illustrates that LSU’s arms haven’t really been needed or tested much this season. All three are capable of holding runners or limiting them from taking an extra base, but it just hasn’t been required much. Duplantis probably possesses the strongest arm of the bunch.

Earlier in the mailbag, it was asked what’s been the most pleasant surprise. The offense is still the answer, but the lockdown outfield defense is also up there, especially given the departures of Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson. Jordan’s made the only error among the three everyday outfielders, but has proven he’s more than a capable defender in left field. Fraley and Duplantis, as expected, are two center field-type athletes that lock down the right side.

This is easier than the lineup, thankfully:

  • Friday night: Kevin Gausman
  • Saturday night: Aaron Nola
  • Sunday afternoon: Anthony Ranaudo
  • Midweek starter: Jared Bradford
  • Long relief: Louis Coleman
  • Set-up man: Chris Cotton
  • Closer: Matty Ott